Generally, Sussex County Warhawks Head Coach John Boyer is a hands-off coach. He lets his coordinators call the plays and he doesn’t waste too much time hassling with the referees over calls. But the team losing their fourth straight game, 22-18 to the Wicomico Stallions, in the wake of a playoff hunt changed all that.
The Warhawks committed five turnovers (two interceptions and three fumbles) but nonetheless, were still in the game — despite a crippling call to end the first half. The referees awarded the Stallions a defensive touchdown on a ruling that a screen pass was a completion that was then fumbled — that instead of an incomplete pass – which extended a 22-12 halftime lead.
Warhawk quarterback Tony Eskridge tossed three touchdown passes and two interceptions for 197 yards on 14-23 passing. Torrez Spence and Josh Ward snagged all three touchdowns for 143 of the 197 total passing yards. The Warhawks even managed 100 rushing yards for a 4-yard average. But, ultimately, the turnovers cost the Warhawks the game.
The Warhawks have suffered at the hands of the referees each of the past four weeks because of questionable calls resulting in narrow defeats. But still Boyer and the Warhawks kept their composure.
“We’ve been getting screwed the past four weeks,” Boyer said. That’s why I told the guys that they’re going to have to win by themselves. We’re going to have to stay focused and be soldiers out there. We weren’t going to get any help from the referees.”
Boyer’s declaration to his players proved true in the second half, with a blocked Stallions punt attempt.
Linebacker Troy Haynes nicked the Stallions punt, which became a live ball but never reached the line of scrimmage. Stallions running back Jeff Lyles scooped up the ball and advanced it 18 yards, and the referees ruled that the Stallions retained possession.
“That’s when I ran on the field,” Boyer said. “The ball never crossed the line of scrimmage. And that’s when I told them, ‘You’re tearing me apart today. This is terrible.’”
Had the correct calls been made on the field, the Warhawks would have won. They limited the Stallions to only two offensive touchdowns (a 37-yard touchdown pass and 13-touchdown run) and 211 total yards. But it was the mobility of the quarterback that kept the Warhawks from closing the gap.
Last week, Dwight Dennis moved from wide receiver to quarterback to give the Stallions more explosiveness at the position. The Stallions’ other two quarterbacks are big, pocket-passer types who might have been born with cinderblocks for feet.
“Moving Dennis opens our offense up a whole lot,” said Stallions Head Coach Martinez Blake. “He’s so elusive that it takes a least three guys to bring him down.”
Dennis is so explosive and quick that if he feels pressure he can take off — which he did for 26 yards — or he will force you to make a decision: come up or play the pass.
Rookie cornerback Matt Davis learned first hand just how dangerous Dennis could be when he bit on the run look and was torched for a 37-yard touchdown pass.
Boyer played four years of defensive back at Cape Henlopen and only once was beaten for a touchdown. Dover’s Curtis Trott ran a 10.7 in the 100-meter dash, compared to Boyer’s modest 10.9 times — but if you bite on an out fake no amount of speed can make up that difference.
“He (Trott) cut off into the flats. And I came up and he went right by me. And I knew I was done,” Boyer said.
Cape Henlopen beat Dover 14-12, but Boyer didn’t feel any part of that victory and now he’s trying to pass that onto Davis and the rest of his youthful secondary.
“I was disappointed and I had to redeem myself,” Boyer said. “But when the same thing happened to Matt I decided to pull him aside and told him to let the quarterback cross the line of scrimmage. Darnell (Strand) was out, so they decided to pick on Davis. So he had to stay with it.”
The Warhawks only sacked Dennis twice but he escaped a handful of other times – three times to complete passes on the run. Dennis only completed five of 14 passes for 81 yards but his receivers also dropped four passes.
Despite pulling the game to within four points on Eskridge’s 10-yard touchdown toss to Spence, the Stallions stuck to their original game plan — running the ball.
Lyles gained 66 of his 88 rushing yards in the second half and Dennis added a nice 21-yard scamper, as well, to put a dagger in the Warhawks’ chances. The Warhawks didn’t give up another touchdown and, in turn, received one last chance to win the game.
They had 70 yards staring in front of them but that distance would shrink following two drive extending penalties. Offsides and roughing-the-passer penalties, combined with three receptions for 20 yards, moved the Warhawks into Stallion territory — but they wouldn’t get any closer. The Stallions were ready for the pass by then.
“We made some adjustments at halftime to shut down their passing game. We had a couple of blown coverages early in the game, but I don’t think it would’ve mattered. I think we still would’ve pulled the game out because we kept game-planning it. We kept running the ball. We kept running the ball,” Blake said.
Beating the Stallions would have ensured a playoff spot for the Warhawks but now their window shrinks exponentially. Now they must beat the New Castle Knights (1-5) and the Warriors must also lose, after the Warhawks lost the tie-breaker to them earlier in the season.
The Knights just came off a 6-0 loss to the Kent County Fire (4-3). The Talbot County Warriors (2-4) are set to host the Queen Anne County Thunder (2-5) but both are coming off brutal losses. The Warriors fell to the New Castle Raiders (5-2) 54-0 and the Thunder lost to the New Castle Saints 35-0.